A retired bank manager took his own life after being diagnosed with tinnitus, an inquest has heard.
The hearing was told how Christopher Wheeler, 56, was suffering from anxiety and depression for several months due to changes in his life.
These included medical issues such as tinnitus, retirement and intrusive memories of childhood trauma.
Mr Wheeler, from Perranwell Station, Truro, took his own life in March 2020, after he and his wife, Paula, decided to go for a walk to build trust.
After his death, Mrs Wheeler had raised concerns about an increase in her husband’s antidepressant medication, which was made two days before his death. In one in 500 people, this can lead to an increase in suicidal thoughts, and Mrs Wheeler said she wasn’t told about that risk. Changes have since been made in the health service to reflect this.
The coroner, Stephen Covell, said Mr Wheeler retired and took voluntary redundancy from Lloyds Bank in 2015. He then worked for a short time as a driver for BMW, but fully retired when he was aged 55.
Mr Covell said initially retirement went well and Mr Wheeler was able to go golfing and walking and the couple had a good social circle.
However, problems arose in 2019 when Mr Wheeler was diagnosed with tinnitus. His illness started getting “significantly worse” and was affecting his sleep.
He underwent a treatment which made his tinnitus worse. As a result he was prescribed sleeping tablets, but he became anxious, agitated and lost weight.
Mr Covell said Mr Wheeler didn’t like being at home on his own, and his wife took time off work to look after him.
Mr Covell said: “In January 2020 Chris reacted badly at the thought of Paula going back to work and she had to be signed off to be at home and support him.”
Mr Wheeler then started to make progress, so his wife felt she was able to leave him temporarily to play badminton with friends. However, he later turned up at the badminton club.
At first she thought this was a good sign that he wanted to socialise, but he had actually come to tell her he had taken a drug overdose.
Where to get support for mental health
There are dozens of places to get online help, including web-chats, text help, phone-calls and even apps with games to help you manage your feelings.
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Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at email@example.com.
Pete’s Dragons (01395 277780) provides specialist support and advice for those affected by suicide in any way via telephone or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Childline (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number won’t show up on your phone bill.
PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation which speaks openly about suicide and supports teenagers and young adults who have may suicidal thoughts. You can also get in contact with Papyrus via text on 07786 209697 or email via email@example.com.
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Depression Alliance is a charity for people with depression. It doesn’t have a helpline, but offers a wide range of useful resources and links to other relevant information. http://www.depressionalliance.org/
Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts. Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying. http://studentsagainstdepression.org/
The Sanctuary (0300 003 7029) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year, for people who are struggling to cope – experiencing depression, anxiety, panic attacks or in crisis.
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Livewell Southwest provides integrated health and social care services for people across Plymouth and other parts of the region. For anxiety and depression enquiries please email email@example.com.
SHOUT (85258) is a 24/7 UK crisis text service available for times when people feel they need immediate support.
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What followed was an admission to Royal Cornwall Hospital, and Mr Wheeler was assessed by the psychiatric liaison team.
He was discharged and prescribed different antidepressant medication.
Things started to improve over the next two weeks, so Mrs Wheeler felt able to leave him at home on his own.
One morning Mr Wheeler went for a walk whilst Mrs Wheeler went out for an hour in the afternoon, however, when she returned the house was empty and the door was locked.
Mr Wheeler was later discovered near the family home, having collapsed following another overdose.
He had broken into a box where his wife had been keeping his medication safe.
This resulted in another admission to Royal Cornwall Hospital and referral to the psychiatric liaison team.
And the home treatment team became involved from March 2020, right up to the day Mr Wheeler sadly died.
Mr Covell said: “He (Chris) started to worry about a number of matters, his feet, his finances, and prior to his illness he had been a calm, confident and capable man, but he certainly wasn’t the same man anymore.”
Mr Covell added: “The initial assessment by the home treatment team was that he was struggling with tinnitus, missing his sons who had moved away, feeling a burden and he was retired.
“There were some emerging memories of childhood trauma, he was also worrying about being bullied at work before his retirement and simply feeling a failure.”
In a conversation with his wife, Mr Wheeler expressed plans for the end of lockdown, which was positive.
At lunchtime on March 25, 2020, the couple decided to go for a walk to build-up trust. The idea had been suggested to them by the home treatment team, so she could spend more time away from him or him away from her.
Mr Covell explained: “The idea was to go for a walk in different directions but meet up at an agreed place after 10 minutes.”
The Cornwall Bereavement Network
The Cornwall Bereavement Network is a network of charities and voluntary organisations that help people affected by bereavement find support and services through one central resource.
Here’s some of the organisations that are part of it:
- Macmillan Cancer Support
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Mr Wheeler was keen to participate in the walk and had a tracker installed on his phone.
Mr Covell said: “The plan was for Chris to ring 10 minutes after they split up. He didn’t ring.”
Mrs Wheeler was eventually able to get hold of him but he was being vague about where he was. She waited for him to arrive at the appointed place, but he didn’t.
Mrs Wheeler returned home, but Mr Wheeler had taken his normal shoes and the car was missing. She contacted the home treatment team and the police, before finding a note he had left for her.
Mr Covell said it was “an indication he had the intention to take his own life, apologising for doing so, and thanking her for being with him.”
Police received a call at 8.53pm that evening informing them that a driver had found a body on the road beside a bridge near Penryn, identified as Mr Wheeler.
Mr Covell concluded that Mr Wheeler intentionally took his own life.
Do you need someone to talk to?
There are a range of local and national organisations which can provide emotional support over the telephone or internet.
The Samaritans – 116 123
You can contact The Samaritans who are available 24 hours a day 365 days a year by phone as well as by email, text and post.
Telephone: Free of charge from landline or mobile: 116 123
Nightlink – 0808 800 0306
Nightlink is an emotional support helpline and text service for anyone in Cornwall who is experiencing emotional distress. All calls are confidential. Nightlink is available 7 days a week from 5pm – midnight
Text service 07717 989 021
*SANE – 0845 767 8000
SANE offers support to anyone coping with mental illness, including concerned relatives or friends.
The SANE helpline is available 7 days a week from 6pm – 11pm.
Papyrus are the national UK charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide and they provide:
HOPElineUK – 0800 068 4141
This is a specialist telephone helpline for children, teenagers and young people up to the age of 35. Call Hopeline if you have concerns about suicide either for yourself or for someone else. Alternatively visit their website at https://www.papyrus-uk.org
Text: 07786 209 697
CALM – 0800 58 58 58
Specifically for men, this service is open 7 days a week, from 5pm to midnight.
STAY ALIVE APP
The Stay Alive app is a pocket suicide prevention resource for the UK, packed full of useful information and tools to help you stay safe in crisis.
ANDY’S MAN CLUB
Andy’s Man Club has four groups across Devon (Plymouth, Newton Abbot, Torbay, Exeter). It provides men with a safe, non-judgemental, confidential place to get stuff off their chests.
During the inquest, Mr Covell addressed an issue raised by Mrs Wheeler about the home treatment team.
Two days before his death, Mr Wheeler’s support team made the decision to increase his antidepressant medication, which can, in rare circumstances, increase suicidal thoughts. Mrs Wheeler said she wasn’t informed about this possibility, and that if she had known, she might not have agreed to go on a ‘trust walk’ with him prior to his death.
Mr Covell said the issue had resulted in a serious incident review by Cornwall Partnership Foundation Trust (CPFT).
He said that information has been shared very wildly within the trust.
Mr Covell said Dr Thompson, who wrote the report about what happened, shared the learning with all of the senior doctors within the various groups and the home treatment team.
Family members are now being told about the increased risk of suicidal thoughts following an increase in medication, which happens in roughly one in 500 people.
Mr Covell said it’s something family members will “want to know about” and is important to “how they assess risks”.
He finished by offering his condolences to Mrs Wheeler and her family.
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Mrs Wheeler has since set up a fundraiser in memory of Christopher Wheeler for the British Tinnitus Association.
You can visit and donate by clicking here.
She said: “Having witnessed first hand the devastating effect tinnitus had on Chris’s life we wanted to raise money for tinnitus research in the hope a cure can be found and other families don’t have to suffer the pain and heartache we are. Thank you for donating.”